• November 29th, 2021

    It’s been a month and a half since President Biden’s Rose Garden ceremony where he fully restored Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments and righted one of the most grievous wrongs from the last administration. Surrounded by Native American Tribal leaders, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, congressional and conservation stalwarts, and members of his executive team, Biden declared that protecting these monuments and their cultural sites and objects “may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done so far as President.” We couldn’t agree more!

    But Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes felt differently. Where we see strong leadership and the vision to protect Bears Ears – a landscape Native American Tribes have called home since time immemorial – Cox and Reyes complain of an affront to rural Utahns. And where we see desperately needed action to conserve Grand Staircase-Escalante and mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis, Cox and Reyes wring their hands that this will mean less coal, oil, and gas is mined and burned at the expense of future generations.

    And now Cox and Reyes are willing to put someone else’s money (Utah taxpayers’) where their mouths are.

    A few weeks ago, the state of Utah announced that it was soliciting bids from law firms and lawyers to pursue a lawsuit against President Biden’s restoration of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. And while the announcement doesn’t exactly come out and say this, it’s clear the contract would last for years and may easily exceed $10 million dollars in fees and expenses. And why not? When it’s someone else’s money, the sky’s the limit, right?

    Not so fast . . . Please help us convince Governor Cox and Attorney General Reyes this is a terrible idea that will only backfire. If you live in Utah, send them a message now via our online alert system. And if you live in or near Salt Lake City, join us for a protest at 6pm this Thursday (12/2) at the Utah State Capitol.

    Rather than waste millions of taxpayer dollars on this fool’s errand (a very similar lawsuit challenging President Clinton’s establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante was defeated by SUWA and others in 2004), Utah politicians should embrace the protection of these remarkable landscapes and recognize what huge assets they are to the state of Utah and our nation as a whole. Rather than pay private lawyers to travel first class and wine and dine at the taxpayers’ expense, those dollars should go to support stewardship, visitor education, and helping local communities benefit from the monuments.

    The choice is clear: Governor Cox and Attorney General Reyes should beat their swords into ploughshares and stand with the majority of Utahns and Americans who support protecting Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.

     

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  • November 22nd, 2021

    Not long ago we told you about the Biden administration’s plan to auction off more than 6,600 acres of public land in Utah for oil and gas development. You may have even submitted comments in September, during the scoping phase of the public process. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has now released its environmental assessment for this lease sale and is accepting public comments through December 1st. Once again, we need you to raise your voice.

    Please tell the BLM to protect our climate by keeping fossil fuel development off our public lands.

    Development on these parcels would threaten wildlife, water resources, and recreation while exacerbating the climate crisis. Four of the six parcels are located adjacent to the Green River in the Uinta Basin, while another is located adjacent to the San Rafael Reef Wilderness, just north of the entrance to Goblin Valley State Park.

    Aerial View of San Rafael Reef Wilderness. © Tom Till

    The BLM is not required to sell these—or any parcels—for development. In January, President Biden issued an executive order pausing all new oil and gas leasing on public lands to allow the Interior Department to review its broken leasing program. And while a federal court in Louisiana set aside that order and instructed the Interior Department to restart a leasing process, the BLM retains broad legal discretion not to lease these lands in order to protect public health and the environment, including our climate.

    Tell the BLM to exercise its discretion and defer its sale of these Utah lease parcels.

    The Interior Department has recognized that the current oil and gas program is broken because, among other things, it “fail[s] to adequately incorporate consideration of climate impacts into leasing decisions” and “inadequately account[s] for environmental harms to lands, waters, and other resources.” The BLM should not offer any new parcels until these shortcomings are resolved, and the Biden administration should stand by its promise to curb fossil fuel leasing and development on our public lands.

    The BLM is accepting comments on its environmental assessment through December 1st. Please submit your comments today.

    Thank you!

  • November 18th, 2021

    Over the past half-decade, our nearly 1,000 stewardship volunteers have dedicated over 11,500 hours of direct service on Utah’s public lands. If we include the travel time our volunteers have invested reaching our far-flung worksites, this number nearly doubles. No other hands-on conservation program in Utah measures up. And none can claim our sharp focus on the preservation and restoration of designated wilderness and wilderness-quality lands.

    This year alone, our crews have worked with our Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service partners to close over 18 miles of illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) routes, rehabilitate over 9,000 square feet of ground surface, restore over 60 illegal campsites and remove more than 80 fire rings on wilderness-quality lands, carry out nearly 150 pounds of trash from wild places, survey over 230 acres for cultural resources, monitor 17 river miles for refuse and camping compliance, and install dozens of wilderness signs identifying protected lands in Utah. Our major emphasis this year has been the important work of implementing congressional wilderness protections in and around the San Rafael Swell—work that we will continue to support in 2022 and beyond.


    Emery County Wilderness Area Management

    Working with the Price BLM on wilderness area management exclusively, we accomplished the following in 2021:

    • 58 volunteers provided over 590 hours of in-field volunteer service.
    • 160 hours of direct staff time were devoted to working on field scoping, volunteer recruitment and management, project travel and facilitation, project reporting, and correspondence.
    • An annual total of 750 service hours—the equivalent of 94 work days or 4.5 months of full-time service—were spent working directly on wilderness protection in Emery County.

    April through October, we targeted areas along the eastern and western boundaries of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness, sites along the eastern flank of the Sids Mountain Wilderness, and locations across the entire boundary of the San Rafael Reef Wilderness. Over six projects, we completed “stage one” protections aimed at ORV compliance in these designated wilderness areas. We will continue to monitor the San Rafael Reef, Mexican Mountain, and Sids Mountain Wilderness Areas for issues that may arise—and we will manage the sites we have worked on in the past. Through the end of the year and into 2022, we will begin assessing problem sites in the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, with plans to move forward into the Muddy Creek Wilderness in early 2022.

    As the history of management in places such as the Cedar Mountain Wilderness have shown, it takes years of persistence to effectively manage wilderness boundaries while slowly discouraging and minimizing harmful (and often illegal) activity. As recreation and travel plans are shaped and implemented, and as the impacts of industrialized recreation create new challenges for wild places, we know that our stewardship work will require consistent review, redesign, and reinforcement. We are committed to the work at hand.



    Advancing Youth and BIPOC Engagement in SUWA Stewardship

    Essential to our work educating and training the next generation of public land stewards and SUWA supporters are our partnerships with institutions uplifting individuals from communities historically underrepresented in the conversation and fight for public lands protection. In 2021, we continued our partnership with the University of Utah’s Bennion Center to work with First Generation College Students on Alternative Break in the San Rafael Swell. As well, we facilitated a project in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for First Year Diversity Scholars at the university—students fulfilling the service requirements of their tuition scholarships. In addition, we continue to offer direct scholarships to BIPOC students across the Colorado Plateau.

    Moving forward, we will continue to focus our outreach efforts on communities historically underserved in the outdoors. We plan to connect further with university programs supporting BIPOC students, Utah-based LGBTQ+ organizations, Latinx outdoors groups in Utah and on the West Coast, and more.


    2021 Work Accomplished—at a Glance

    • 18 miles of illegal ORV routes managed for closure
    • 9,120 square feet of surface rehabilitation performed
    • (56) wilderness signs, (12) wilderness study area (WSA) signs; (3) restoration area signs; (3) cultural resource protection signs
    • (22) gabion baskets built and 1,363’ of log & block barrier installed
    • (59) illegal campsites remediated & (82) fire rings removed
    • 230 acres surveyed for cultural resources, +3.5 miles road corridor
    • (17) miles of river corridor managed for refuse, camping compliance
    • (145) lbs of trash removed from wilderness

    Stewardship Numbers – Through The Years

    • 2021 Volunteer Hours: 3,193 / 2016-2021 Volunteer Hours: 11,534
    • 2021 Volunteers Managed: 191 / 2016-2021 Volunteers: 905
    • 2021 Project Days: 48 / 2016-2021 Project Days: 185

    Stewardship Projects – Where We’ve Been


    Stewardship Projects – Highlights
    Of course, none of this would be possible without your service. As our staff spends the winter developing work proposals for the season ahead, I invite you to register today to join the ranks of our committed stewardship volunteers at suwa.org/apply.

    See you out there next season. And thank you for all your hard work.

    Jeremy Lynch (he/him)
    Stewardship Director | Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
    (435) 259-9151
    volunteer@suwa.org

     

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  • November 17th, 2021

    Now that we’ve collectively taken a month or so to deeply breathe in full restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to their original boundaries: what comes next? We’ve invited SUWA’s Legal Director, Steve Bloch to explain the current state of things. Steve has guided SUWA’s work through legal and administrative challenges on both monuments over the years, and he’s here to bring us up to date on the process, answer your questions, and explain what you can do to reinforce protections for these outstanding places.

    Take action after this episode!

    Sign a thank you card to President Biden and Interior Secretary Haaland for restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments!

    Attend an upcoming webcast with Oregonians of Wild Utah, Washington Friends of Wild Utah, and Jacqueline Keeler to further unpack the future of Bears Ears.

     

    Resources:

    Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Statement on Bears Ears National Monument restoration 

    SUWA Statement on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument restorations

    Learn more about SUWA’s stance on Bears Ears here

    Learn more about SUWA’s stance on Grand Staircase-Escalante here

     

    Highlights in the News:

    KSLTV: Tribes, advocates praise Bears Ears restoration

    High Country News: Bears Ears is back– but don’t celebrate just yet

    Washington Post Opinion: Bears Ears is protected again. But for how long?

    Deseret Opinion: It’s time to deflate the Bears Ears political football

    Huffington Post: Utah Republicans Shamelessly Invoke Tribes to Condemn Bidens Monument Restorations

    ABC 7 Denver: Native stewards of Bears Ears hope for more Indigenous voices to be included in federal land management

    KUTV2: Utah AG challenging orders over Bears Ears, Grand Staircase National Monuments

    Outside Magazine Op-Ed: There’s more work to do at Bears Ears

     

    Thank you to our show supporters!

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Thank you for your support!

    Become a SUWA member today and support the Wild Utah Podcast

     

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    Theme music is by Haley Noel Austin, with interlude music by Larry Pattis.
    Dave Pacheco is the host of Wild Utah.
    Post studio production and editing is by Laura Borichevsky.
    A transcript of this episode is available here.

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